Growing up in a residential society of around fifty families has its advantages.
Choice of cricketing targets: You get to have your pick of windows to break during cricket. Fourth floor windows came with an automatic prize of an egg puffs and drinks (ahh, memories of those two rupee cold drinks).
Anytime access to food: some or the other family would always have put out those delicious pickles in the sun to dry. The Konkani family in the third floor had a particularly tongue tingling recipe for sun dried mango pickles.
Free entertainment: Now this is complicated, but I guess you young boys who grew up in pre ‘tata sky’ era would know. A little magic trick using insulated copper wire connected to your TV and attached to a twisted metal shirt hanger placed strategically near the path of your neighbor’s cable gets you free cable television. My dad still thinks I managed without TV those times during the study holidays in March when the cable connection used to be disconnected.
Acrobatic lessons: You know that quintessential water tank in every housing society on top of a tower. Yea, even ours had one of those. It stood above even the tallest buildings in the society. And not many of my creed (that’s 12 and stupid) dared climb up the 88 rungs of that ladder to its top. Let me confess now Mukundan uncle, (he was the secretary of the residential society) it was me who threw all those plastic bags in the tank that blocked the water supply for three days. And also for the record that cricket ball that hit the back of your neck (he had to walk around with a neck collar for a week) , was intentional. And in those days if your Bajaj scooter refused to start in the morning it was probably because early morning pee (A lot of boys my age in that society perfected their aim on Mukundan Uncle’s scooter’s petrol tank mouth) and petrol didn’t mix properly.
But probably the biggest advantage of all was that you had guys and gals aplenty of your age to partner with in a thousand crimes (Don’t worry Jerry I’m not confessing to anything here). This brings me back to those love letters. Me being the innocuous little boy was the preferred love letter carrier for many hot blooded young turks in the society who decided to try their luck with the pretty maidens there.
There was this chechi* in the society, let’s just say ladyB. Now ladyB was 18 at the time and I was 12. She was the prettiest girl I knew. Her long frocks (ala Kavya Madhavan’s when she skipped across the green fields of paddy to the tune of a valluvanadan* song) as she walked in grace used to send my heart a fluttering. I was her only true friend (from among those other 12 year olds who used to ogle at her so rudely) and we used to have these intellectual discussions (I wanted to let her know that I was extra mature for my age and convince her that the idea of eloping with me is not entirely preposterous) every evening as it turned dark and the regular games of kallanum-policum (chor-sipahi) with the ‘kids’ was done. I saw myself as her guardian and wouldn’t bear it if any of the boy talks (and at 12 believe me there are many) started drifting to any‘thing’ to do with her. Sorry Satish for that broken tooth. Pals? now that neither of us got her?
It was one such evening when ladyB and me were engrossed in discussions (probably about the vanity of life or the transcendent nature of love) that Arunchettan called me. I hated that a*****. I was one of his primary ragging targets as a five year old (I spent more than a dozen years in that place), but now that I was all grown up we were buddies (or so he thought).
Arunchettan: Vinu kutta* how are you da, long time. We don’t spend time together anymore kutta.
Me: (Can’t you see that I was with my lover) hehe, yea ArunChetta, how’s your college going. Mom was telling me that you got into Engineering college (his dad in the gulf must have paid lakhs for that seat).
Arun: yea its great da..Vinu, do me a favour my man. Give this letter to someone wont you?
Now I’ve acted as a courier service to Arunchettan several times before (never knew what happened of it all) and I was glad to take up the call to what was now almost a vocation.
Me: Oh anytime chetta*, ippravashyam vellathum nadakkumo? (Will something happen this time?)
The bloody Casanova had raised his targets now that he was an engineer to be. As soon as he said that the letter was for ladyB the blood started boiling in me. My eyes bulged and the little sinews stretched and the next thing I knew, I had thrown myself at him and had knocked him over from the ledge he was sitting on. I was scratching his face with my finger nails and was about to bite his nose off. But Arunchettan was thrice my size and a regular at the local gymkhana. He regained his composure after the initial shock and just lifted me and threw me away as he would do a pillow. And before I even got back to my feet he was pounding my face with his huge fists.
A crowd quickly gathered and ladyB was also among them. Somebody pulled away Arunchettan from atop me. My spunk had still not been driven out (not a thousand of those mighty punches would have done it that day), and I was like a Doberman (some might call a dachshund, because of my size but hey I know better) tugging at its leash. I yelled out all the abuses that my ‘refined’ pals of the housing society had taught me.
“eda, patti (you dog) how dare you write a letter to ente pennu (my girl)”. I saw ladyB’s look change from wonder to shock, from the corner of my eyes.
Fifteen years ago and that’s how I sacrificed my career delivering letters. Well it didn’t go to waste. Arunchettan as far as I know never dared give a letter to ladyB. But on the flip side ladyB’s parents married her off before she turned 20. I was heartbroken and didn’t have dinner that night of her wedding despite mom having made her special fried rice and chicken curry. But all wasn’t lost. LadyB’s sister was coming back from her nursing studies the next month.
*chechi - elder sister literally but used for any female who’s older than you
*chettan - elder brother literally but used for any male who’s older than you
*valluvanadan- pertaining to valluvanad which I guess is somewhere in north Kerala.
*Kavya Madhavan – Mallu actress.
*kutta – affectionate name for a small boy (nothing to do with kutha in hindi)
PS: Mukundan uncle thankfully didn’t have burly sons who’d have otherwise shown me the righteous path. But in case he has grandsons of the type, please hear me out, you would have done the same had you been in my position.